Blog PostsFeatures Home

Let’s face it, the F-gas regs aren’t working

EUROPE: The measures taken by European member states to counter the coronavirus threat provide a stark contrast to their lack of actions to enforce the F-gas regulations, writes Cooling Post editor Neil Everitt.   

Despite lock downs in many countries, and some suggesting that the current coronavirus restrictions don’t go far enough, the sanctions imposed in most countries to deal with this virus go far beyond anything most of us have ever experienced in our lifetime.

But, if the climate experts are correct, compared to the coronavirus the world faces a far more serious long term threat from global warming.

It would be argued that Europe, with its F-gas regulations and, its more recent HFC phase down timetable, has led the world in dealing with high global warming potential gases. 

Far from being a global template for HFC reductions, the continuing lack of any sort of concerted action to ensure compliance is making a mockery of the European F-gas regulations.

I’m sick and tired of hearing from the EU, and many industry trade bodies, how, following the most recent European Environment Agency report, that Europe is again within its F-gas phase down obligations and that the regulations are working.

According to the European Environment Agency, the EU’s 2018 phase down target was achieved by the colossal margin of 1%. This is used as an example – actually, the only example – that the European F-gas regulations are working. 

Of course, this single statistic completely ignores the overt and blatant illegal sales of refrigerant over the past few years. This was obvious to the entire industry and has been calculated to have been equivalent to as much as 20% of the legal allowable quota in 2018. 

So, just how are the F-gas regulations actually working?

Virtually all of this illegal refrigerant was being imported in illegal disposable cylinders. Leaving aside whether or not this was being brought into the EU as part of a legal quota, any marginally knowledgeable individual would have been able to spot that this refrigerant was in illegal disposable cylinders. However, this obvious visual identification was seemingly beyond the knowledge of customs officials across the EU. 

Of course, it was the duty of the European Commission and member states to ensure that customs officials were fully conversant with the F-gas regulations. They quite clearly weren’t, and, possibly, still aren’t.

Under pressure from the Cooling Post and the industry in general, it is clear that the various responsible authorities within Europe have, to a greater or lesser extent, made it clear to these sellers that disposable cylinders are illegal. Internet sales of refrigerant in illegal disposable cylinders have dropped dramatically but, amazingly, there have been few prosecutions for these offences despite the obvious and blatant abuses of the regulation.

The reason? Most EU member states, we learn, like to take the “kid gloves” approach to F-gas implementation by “educating” the market.

As a result of the clampdown on illegal refrigerant cylinders there are now no end of sellers offering refrigerant in supposedly legal refillable cylinders. Yet, many offer no provision the cylinders return for refilling as demanded under the F-gas regulations.

Article 2 (13) of the F-gas regulations 517/2014 states: “a non-refillable container” means a container which cannot be refilled without being adapted for that purpose or is placed on the market without provision having been made for its return for refilling

These sales are illegal, yet the authorities continue to turn a blind eye.

Why is this blatant contravention of the F-gas regulations being ignored by the authorities?

The F-gas regulations also states, under Article 10, that “fluorinated greenhouse gases shall only be sold to and purchased by undertakings that hold the relevant certificates or attestations in accordance with Article 10 or undertakings that employ persons holding a certificate or a training attestation in accordance with Article 10(2) and (5)”.

Why is this blatant contravention of the F-gas regulations being ignored by the authorities?

Further, only those who have the necessary quota allowance are allowed to import HFC refrigerant into the EU. Is this being checked?

If not: Why is this blatant contravention of the F-gas regulations being ignored by the authorities?

Anecdotal evidence in the UK suggests non-hermetically sealed air conditioning equipment is regularly sold to non-F-gas-certified companies or individuals, and there is no reason to assume that this illegal practice is not also common throughout the rest of Europe. 

Under article 11 (5) “non-hermetically sealed equipment charged with fluorinated greenhouse gases shall only be sold to the end user where evidence is provided that the installation is to be carried out by an undertaking certified in accordance with Article 10”.

We know that many of these sales take place without any checks on certification.

Why is this blatant contravention of the F-gas regulations being seemingly ignored by the authorities?

All EU member states are legally obliged to set penalties for contravention of the F-gas regulations. The level of the penalties are at the discretion of each member state but must be “effective, proportionate and dissuasive”.

The level of fines varies greatly across the European Union. In the UK, for instance, infringements can result in fines from £1,000 to £200,000 (€1,120 to €225,000). In Germany its €100 to €50,000 and in Italy, the most recent country to set penalties, its €5,000 to €100,000.

Yet, in some member states the fines are much lower. Romania’s proposed fines of between around €200 and €6,000 are on a level with countries like Poland where fines range from PLN600 to PLN30,000 (€140 to €7,000). 

Even given the differences in average monthly salaries and cost of living between EU member states, how can the fines set by the likes of Poland and Romania be considered “effective, proportionate and dissuasive”?

That said, the magnitude of the fines is irrelevant if member states never enforce them. For instance, the UK has set one of the largest levels of fines in Europe (a trading area which it seeks to no longer be a member of) yet, as far as we are aware, it has not fined any individual or company since the penalties were established.

Many industry bodies point to the benefits of the recent involvement of OLAF, the European Commission’s fraud office, and its crackdown on illegal activities in Italy earlier this year. Bearing in mind how long the European phase down has been in effect and the extent of the illegal activity, some might ask why it has taken so long for this department to become involved?

In addition, the Cooling Post’s, admittedly limited, contact with OLAF suggests that they have no understanding of the difference between illegal imports, counterfeit refrigerants or contaminated refrigerants. Worryingly, we are concerned that their “knowledge” may have come from the very organisations that claim to be representing this industry. 

And, sadly, despite, and possibly because of, the Cooling Post’s efforts to highlight abuses of the F-gas regulations, this website has been largely shunned by the governmental institutions. Incredibly, it also fails to get answers from certain industry groups. 

I appreciate that the various air conditioning and refrigeration industry bodies, and even some environmental groups, are required to take a “political” stance when dealing with the European Commission, but the Cooling Post doesn’t.

We are tired of hearing from the authorities and certain industry associations how well the F-gas regulations are working, when to us, and the industry at large, they quite clearly aren’t.

Related Articles

Back to top button